Robo-Squirrel a Waste of Money: Senator

A U.S. Senator says researchers at San Diego State University are wasting your money by experimenting with a robotic squirrel.

The SDSU and UC Davis biology professors built robots from real squirrels to learn how the species protect themselves from rattlesnakes. The researchers watched video surveillance of the robo-squirrels in action as they fended off their fiercest predators.

The professors found that when the squirrels don't sense the snake, they become an easy target for snakes. But when the squirrel senses the snake, it waves its tail from side-to-side.

The movement serves a dual purpose: first, it warns other squirrels that danger is near. Second, the squirrel becomes a moving target, which the snake sees as a waste of its energy.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said these experiments cost $325,000 and are a waste of taxpayer money.

But the SDSU professors told NBC 7 San Diego the robots are "powerful new tools to examine basic biology."

The also say almost all of the grant money helped educate future scientists, and that building the robots cost only a few hundred dollars.

“Evolving adaptations and counter-adaptations that allow species to avoid being eaten or obtain a meal respectively, is a powerful evolutionary force,” said SDSU Professor Rulon Clark in a news release. “It’s responsible for shaping lots of species and ecosystems."

Clark said their discovery is the best documented example of this kind of adaptation.

Watch the interaction below: 

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